September 25, 2016

Patriots Roundtable, Championship Edition

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First, a little housekeeping: we’re having some technical difficulties this morning in posting this week’s Patriots Buffet Table. But please, stay tuned later today for another winning entry from the PD Kitchen Staff.

Edit: And just like that, here it is. With beer cans! Thanks, Kitchen Staff!

The Patriots are poised to entertain the Chargers in the third AFC Championship game to be played in Foxborough, so the Roundtable guys have gathered again for another confab. Let’s listen in.

You are a Patriots fan. Tony Masserotti says you were disappointed that the Colts lost last Sunday. Were you?

Dan Snapp: A little, so it’s sad to say maybe Masserotti speaks for me here. I’ve enjoyed the rivalry, and I’ve always looked ahead to the Colts game on the schedule each year. Plus, I think the way the Patriots played in that November 4th tilt has been vastly underrated. They were gonna kill the Colts in a rematch, so we were deprived of the Peyton face.

Travis Graham: No. It was actually quite the opposite. I don’t know if this is a sign of an “unhealthy” sports fan, but I got more enjoyment out of watching the Colts lose than watching the Patriots win. The path to the Superbowl is a little easier for the Patriots now, but that wasn’t the only reason why I was so happy. I just enjoy watching the Colts lose, especially at home. I have no rational explanation for this.

Bruce Allen: Tony Massarotti (or Dan Shaughnessy) does not speak for me. I also enjoyed seeing the Colts lose, and have no disappointment that they’re not coming to town on Sunday. I think the columnists are upset because they had all their “storylines” lined up in advance and now the Chargers have come and upset the apple cart on them. Happily for the lazy media types, they were handed quite a gift with the Randy Moss story this week. Now they can break out all the character columns and thoughts they had stored up all season without a chance to use.

Greg Doyle: Absolutely not. That is so silly. Why would I care? As a fan, I’m not looking for storylines, I am looking for championships. If the Patriots go on to win one, think anyone will remember they didn’t beat the Colts? Most of these idiots in the media never can seem to keep straight what years they beat the Colts in the divisional round (2004) or AFC Championship (2003) or any of the details accurately of their championship runs and they are going to try to tell us its important now? Too funny.

Dan: A distinction should be made between media reasons and fan reasons. I don’t care about storylines; I want championships, regardless of whom they have to go through to get it. And if they win it without meeting the Colts in the playoffs, there’s no luster lost from the achievement. But fans are gonna feel what they’re gonna feel. I was a little disappointed it wasn’t the Colts because beating them always has an extra oomph to it.

Kevin Thomas: I don’t really buy the idea that it would be a lesser accomplishment to beat the team that was good enough to KO the champs, because frankly, I didn’t think there was any team out there up to that challenge. We knew going in that whoever was coming to Foxborough this weekend was going to be a damn good football team. It will be a moot point after the opening kickoff on Sunday.

In September, the Chargers and Pats had a rematch of their bitter, emotional playoff game last January, and New England won decisively. Is there a difference between the Chargers then and today?

Dan: Adjusting to the coaching changes, the emergence of Antonio Cromartie, the Chris Chambers pickup, and I like Eric Weddle a lot. The team can’t be overlooked, as they have a load of talent on both sides of the ball.

Scott Benson: The first thing that comes to my mind is Cromartie. He was a backup then and now he’s one of their best players. I shudder to think of him with the ball in his hands on Sunday.

Bruce: I think there’s no question that the Chargers have gotten their act together over the course of the season. They’ve gotten stronger as the season has gone along – always a bad thing for playoff opponents. In some ways they’re still the same over-emotional club that explodes at each other as much as at the opposition, and this could be their Achilles heel.

Do the Chargers have a chance to beat the Pats if Phillip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson don’t play?

Scott: Oddly, I can’t imagine any scenario where Tomlinson beats the Patriots. Is he going to run for 150 or hit 200 in total yardage against the Pats? I don’t see it. So Turner (4.2 a carry Sunday) and Sproles (where are these short people coming from?) can cover there. Rivers is freaking me out. How is this sidearm loudmouth completing these passes? So I’m going to say yes, they can beat them without Tomlinson, and no, Billy Volek may not hold up for four quarters against the Pats.

Travis: I’ve been critical of Rivers in the past, but his three quarters of play on Sunday was some of the best passing I’ve ever seen from him. I’d be much happier with Volek taking the snaps and not have to worry about a repeat performance.

Bruce: After last week, you certainly can’t count them out in any situation. While the offense put together some good drives, it was really the defense that won that game for them. With the defense healthy, they can hang in this game.

The Patriots defense gave up 350 yards to the Jaguars, including 270 through the air. The Jaguars possessed the ball for nearly as long as New England did. This performance came on the heels of giving up 35 points to the NY Giants in the final regular season game. Is the Patriots defense good enough to go to the Super Bowl, and win it?

Bruce: Of course it is. They took away the vaunted Jaguars running game, which is what they wanted to do. When they needed to make plays late, they made them. It might’ve been frustrating watching the Garrard throw the ball all over the field on Saturday, but Taylor and Jones-Drew were mostly ineffective. That’s pretty impressive.

Dan: They’re not asked to dominate. They’re asked to take away what teams do best. I think they do that well enough to win.

Scott: I’m resigned to the idea that every single game will be the exact same thing. Get run up and down the field a few times and then dodge a bullet by a sixteenth of a inch. I’m thinking of Dennis Northcutt from last week, as one example. But I do think that they’ll continue to summon the key stops, particularly in the second half, to hold up their end. I do think ahead to the off-season, and wonder about the changes to come. I don’t think the front seven is a particular strength of this team anymore, and it’s no wonder, as some of the most essential members are now 10+ year vets. If they go on to win the Super Bowl, the Patriots will have seemingly gotten everything they could out of this core group. Will they try to wring more, or will this be the off-season they step into the next era?

Dan: There will be a time when we’ll have to face the sober reality of “next year”, and the sadness of the handful of longtime friends who’ll no longer be part of our autumns (an expected retirement or two, I suspect a surprise one, and possibly one with the choice of retirement or a lesser role forced upon him). For now, let’s just drink this up and enjoy it while it lasts.

The Patriots employed their usual spread-shotgun offense on Saturday night, but they also hunkered down for a very productive running game featuring Laurence Maroney. What do you expect to see against the Chargers?

Dan: I can’t imagine seeing much of Maroney up the middle, but I hope we see him in the flat catching screens. I think the Chargers are susceptible to overpursuit.

Travis: I figure we’ll see more of the same. The Pats had a balanced offense working to perfection last week. I think they could have easily put up 50 if they needed to. One of the key contributors for the success of the running game was the (bizarro) Marvin-esque return of Stephen Neal. Neal and Mankins neutralized the Jaguars’ DTs, which let Maroney get a few steps in forward before he had to start making cuts.

A lot will be made of the coaching “mismatch” this week. But the Chargers just got their first two playoff wins in thirteen years, including one that knocked out the defending champs. Is Norv Turner being underestimated?

Dan: They had a great gameplan against the Colts, so good for Norv. He’s got a tough rep to overcome. I still can’t get over what he said back in week two, that he kept the first series script hidden from the team until Sunday morning. Belichick was that much in his head. But he and his coaches beat the defending champs in their own building, despite getting raped by the refs, with key plays from their second string quarterback and third string running back. Norv must be doing something right.

Bruce: Turner is actually getting some criticism for being too conservative after the Colts lost the ball on downs just before the two minute warning, which gave the Colts another shot with the ball. Overall, offense is his strength and he seemed to have a pretty good plan for the Colts defense for most of the afternoon. That being said, he’s a little out of his league in this coaching matchup. The players are a different story, but I don’t think we need to worry about the Patriots being outcoached this week.

Greg: I suppose he is being underestimated, in so far as I do not think Turner is the complete buffoon of a coach he is sometimes portrayed as. He is a decent coach and knows offense. He is not Belichick or anywhere near his level though. I am somewhat more concerned about the weather, truthfully. The cold forecast makes it hard to execute perfectly on offense, so I see that keeping the game close more than the coaching matchups.

Kevin: Do you think there is anything to the idea that the cold weather will negatively affect the warm-weather Chargers? I’m not sure if anyone has ever looked into that question statisticly, but my guess is it would be near impossible to isolate the impact of cold weather over other factors. I do remember that Tampa was winless in cold weather games over a ridiculously long stretch, but of course they almost always stunk until St. Tony arrived. Quickly scanning the box scores, it looks like the last time the Chargers played a game where the game-time temperature was below 32 degrees was in 2004 at Clevelend (a 21-0 win). Before that was at Kansas City in 2001 (a 20-17 loss). So, during the entire Tomlinson era, that’s only two games played in freezing weather. Obviously, not enough to predict one way or the other how it might affect them on Sunday. At the very least, though, it would be a ready-made excuse should things start to turn against them on the field.

Greg: Yes, I expect a lower scoring game than the Patriots have generally played this year. I don’t expect either of the offenses to roll up and down the field. Not to say they’ll be completely ineffective, but I just don’t think the conditions will be condusive to a shoot-out in the thirties. But who knows.

Adding to what I said about Turner, I went back and checked Bill Belichick’s record against Norv Turner. I included any game where Belichick was either head coach or defensive coordinator and any game where Turner was either head coach or offensive coordinator. Their history dates back to when Belichick was head coach in Cleveland and Turner was the offensive coordinator of the Cowboys.

It’s interesting. Belichick initially struggled against Turner’s offenses. Belichick’s team’s lost 3 of the first 4 matchups with Turner’s offenses averaging 26.25 points per game.However, Belichick has turned that around to win 5 straight games against Turner offenses, giving up an average of only 14.2 points per game. Overall, Belichick is 6-3 versus Turner offenses and has given up an average of 19.55 points per game.

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